A Comprehensive History

For a summary of this page, please see A Brief History of the Bay Area Social Equity Caucus

Origins of the Social Equity Caucus

On September 24, 1994, Vice President Al Gore officially marked the transfer of the Presidio to the National Park Service. He brought with him a multi-million-dollar redevelopment package and a suite of interagency agreements intended to make the park, a picturesque former Army base just east of the Golden Gate, into a showcase for military land returned to public use and a “working model for sustainability.” (1) In the years since, the integrity of that model has come into question. (2) The park’s management, The Presidio Trust, has reached out to corporate tenants and developers in an attempt to meet the park’s congressionally- mandated deadline of financial self-sufficiency by 2013. How one defines sustainability is only one part of the controversy around the Presidio’s stewardship, but in that very conversation lay the beginnings of the Social Equity Caucus. (3)

The Urban Habitat Program (4) (UH) was founded in 1989 by Carl Anthony, Karl Linn and David Brower of Earth Island Institute to build multicultural leadership for sustainable development in the Bay Area. With Anthony as Urban Habitat’s Executive Director, the organization quickly became a leading figure in the environmental justice movement and an early advocate for sustainability. At the First National People of Color Summit, held in Washington, D.C. in 1991, Urban Habitat gave a presentation on sustainable growth and made a case for environmental justice organizations to broaden their scope beyond anti-toxics campaigns. The summit was a pivotal event for the environmental justice movement, and delegates affirmed seventeen principles to guide their work. (5) Back in the Bay Area, Anthony assumed two leadership positions that placed him at the forefront of land-use issues. The first was a seat on the Presidio Council, a national group of volunteers established by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy to plan for the base’s “post to park” (6) transition. Urban Habitat moved its offices to the Presidio and Anthony used his position to encourage communities of color to assume a leadership role in the discussions around the Presidio’s future. Additionally, when President Clinton announced a wave of military base closings around the country in 1993, then-Congressman Ron Dellums named Anthony as Chairman of the East Bay Conversion and Reinvestment Commission and tasked him with preparing for the transfer of military real estate in Alameda County. In each of these roles, Anthony had a unique vantage point for observing and participating in discussions around the future of Bay Area public lands. Rather than adopt the no-growth position prevalent in the mainstream environmental movement at the time, he sought a sustainable development approach consistent with environmental justice principles.

When Gore and the Presidio Council gathered for a meeting in the Bay Area in 1994, President’s Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) member Dianne Dillon-Ridgley introduced an Urban Habitat report, Sustainability & Justice CoverSustainability and Justice: A Message to the President’s Council on Sustainable Development, and then asked the Vice President his view on the subject.(7) The report made a strong impression and contributed to Anthony’s being invited to join the PCSD when Dr. Benjamin Chavis stepped down to head the NAACP. Though honored by the invitation, Anthony decided to decline the position due to travel and budgetary constraints. While the PCSD’s charter included “further developing a vision of innovative environmental management that fosters sustainable development (environment, economy and equity),” (8) the composition of the council was heavily weighted toward business and large, mainstream environmental groups—leaving the focus on social equity in considerable doubt. (9)

In 1997, two PCSD members from the Bay Area—Michele Perrault, International Vice President of the Sierra Club, and Richard Clarke, Chairman and CEO of PG&E, approached Anthony and Urban Habitat about starting a version of the Council for the Bay Area. Along with Sunne Wright McPeak of the Bay Area Council (BAC) and Gary Binger of the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), the group established the Bay Area Alliance for Sustainable Development—known today as the Bay Area Alliance for Sustainable Communities (BAASC). The Alliance was created to be a multi-stakeholder coalition of groups—from government and from each of the “3 E” sectors (business/economy, environment and equity)—that would play a major role on issues of regional development and “smart growth.” As described in a comprehensive report by Innes (10), “The tacit mission was to change the patterns and practices of land use in the region to achieve a more compact, transit-friendly form of growth, which these leaders equated with sustainability.” ABAG, BAC and Urban Habitat each became caucus chairs, and the founding groups became the Alliance’s steering committee.

The Social Equity Caucus is Born

Caucus Members Review and Discuss Document
Urban Habitat’s decision to join the Alliance as the steering committee’s equity caucus chair was, according to Anthony, controversial even within his own organization. Some critics, he recalled, were concerned that he was trying to represent the entire Bay Area social equity universe of organizations without an established constituency. He went forward anyway. Anthony believed that a singular, significant and fleeting opportunity existed to weigh in on regional development issues alongside the major players in business and government, and he saw participation as long overdue given the global economic forces at work in the region. Even more than specific policies, he saw an opportunity—long overdue—to push the equity movement forward by mobilizing social change organizations to address regional issues. The Bay Area was in the middle of profound economic growth and decisions were being made that would affect the future of low-income communities and communities of color for decades to come. Anthony knew from experience that it would take time to organize grassroots groups. He negotiated with the other steering committee members for the freedom to organize around Alliance issues and activities and, in return, agreed not to delay action while waiting for community input. In fact, he was hoping that by pushing ahead with an Alliance timetable he could galvanize the equity organizations to take a leap he’d been advocating for years—into cooperative action on the regional scale.

Taking a Risk

Anthony’s move risked alienating the same base-building membership groups that would be necessary to demonstrate community support for the Caucus. He called a large meeting of social equity organizations to make his case and generate buy-in; it was a difficult sell. Some organizational representatives spoke out against what they perceived as a structure of intermediaries without true community representation, and the room was divided even on whether working regionally was a priority. “[Anthony] had the power to convoke, so he convened sixty to eighty people but they didn’t really buy the vision because the regional lens was so new […] Although a key move in the right direction, it was more of a trust-me situation,” recalled one SEC stakeholder. “At the time, the SEC was kind of a convenient fiction. It was a great opportunity for the Bay Area Alliance to have a social equity voice but there wasn’t a group…. Carl tried to build the organization up to the opportunity.”

Caucus Members chatting before a meeting
During this early stage of the SEC’s development, the SEC was described as having thirty-one participants, mostly intermediaries, of which ten were active. (11) The Caucus was staffed by Urban Habitat, met irregularly and had no explicit mission or charter. The initial vision of expanding to become an independent, “metropolitan assembly for socially-just land use,” (12) had been put on hold as the SEC primarily concerned itself with Bay Area Alliance activities. Those activities included the launch of two major initiatives: the Compact for a Sustainable Bay Area, a collaborative multisector
effort to produce a guiding framework for regional development that included the “3 E’s,” and the Community Capital Investment Initiative (CCII), which sought to invest capital in underserved communities to generate “double bottom line” returns (financial and social). (13)

Through Urban Habitat, the SEC functioned as a sounding board for the Alliance to solicit opinions, advice and participation, and many SEC members were integrally involved in the Alliance projects. The CCII, in particular, was structured to give community organizations decision-making power through the formation of the Community Council, a subset of the Social Equity Caucus (headed by Urban Habitat, PolicyLink and the National Economic and Development and Law Center). While some stakeholders describe the overall results of the CCII as “mixed,” its Bay Area Family of Funds has raised over $150 million in capital for “equitable development” projects that seek “…to improve the economic condition of low-income communities in ways that benefit and do not displace existing residents.” (14)

Although no longer a “convenient fiction,” the SEC had yet to harness its member organizations’ collective impact, a step necessary to achieve the original vision of a body with parity to the other Alliance stakeholder groups. Some SEC participants sensed that the Alliance was effectively functioning at the behest of corporate and governmental interests—however comparatively progressive those interests might appear—and that the SEC needed to become more independent. A late 1990’s Urban Habitat document, “Concept Paper for Developing the SEC,” proposed a conference with one of the goals being to identify, “a group of CBOs [community-based organizations] and intermediaries to work together for community led [sic] regional development (what we originally thought the SEC could do).” (15) One of the goals for the proposed conference was to emerge with an “…agenda that is cross-issue, cross-geography, cross-race, cross-actor….” —a vision that remains with the SEC to this day.

Beginning in 2000, a regional dialogue process was initiated by the Bay Area Alliance to solicit community input from around the Bay Area on regional growth issues. Urban Habitat hoped to mobilize turnout to county meetings via SEC member organizations but, according to Urban Habitat staff, it was not successful. Although individual SEC member organizations continued to participate in and shape Alliance projects, the Caucus was drifting and participation was down. Anthony had succeeded in mobilizing equity organizations to participate in regional planning, but ultimately those organizations had not taken ownership of the Caucus. UH staff began looking for alternative ways to represent the equity perspective in the community planning process.

By 2001 the SEC was inactive. Anthony was leaving Urban Habitat to become Program Officer for Sustainable Metropolitan Communities at the Ford Foundation. One of his last acts was to arrange for SEC participants to be interviewed for a video that would be played at the opening of the county meetings to ensure the inclusion of their voices. That video, “Voices from the Community: Perspectives on Social Equity and Smart Growth,” was played at the beginning of community meetings in all nine Bay Area counties, and it became an important symbol of the SEC’s role as a collective body advocating for social equity. (16) While the video was a success, Anthony’s departure left Urban Habitat in significant flux. Urban Habitat had no staff, and all its funding was set to expire in October 2001. Juliet Ellis, Anthony’s former assistant from 1997 to mid-1998, returned from her work at the San Francisco Foundation determined to keep the organization alive. Ellis began an aggressive fundraising drive and recruited a new Advisory Board. Her efforts paid off. Urban Habitat hired additional staff and resumed programming. One of the questions Ellis had was whether or not to reestablish the Social Equity Caucus.

Reinvigorating the SEC

Bridging the Bay Summit 2003
Ellis reconvened the Caucus in December 2001 to assess the coalition’s future. Attendees affirmed the need for a regional coalition around social equity but expressed a strong desire to move beyond simple networking to carrying out actual campaign work. They also stressed the importance of holding regular meetings and increasing regional and grassroots representation in the membership. Subsequent strategic planning in 2002, facilitated by Manuel Pastor of UC Santa Cruz‘s Center for Justice, Community and Tolerance (CJCT), identified stakeholder interest in the SEC’s playing the roles of convener and connector, capacity-builder and resource provider. Because interest in campaigning around issues of regional impact remained high, Urban Habitat continued working with CJCT to plan a Bridging the Bay regional summit.

Bridging The Bay Summit April 2003
On the weekend of April 26th, 2003, approximately ninety-five representatives from Bay Area social justice organizations met at the Bridging the Bay summit to build relationships, participate in workshops around regionalism and power analysis, and identify potential SEC campaign issues. (17) After considerable deliberation, two campaign priorities were identified—transportation justice and opposing the upcoming statewide ballot initiative known as Proposition 54, the so-called “Racial Privacy Initiative.” Bridging the Bay energized attendees more than any previous SEC event and signaled a new phase in the caucus’s development. This “re-invention,” as one participant put it, continued as Urban Habitat followed up on the identified issues and partnered with the Transportation and Land Use Coalition (TALC) to create the SEC’s Transportation Justice Working Group (TJWG). Urban Habitat also joined with other organizations that had attended the Bridging the Bay to create the “No on Proposition 54 Taskforce.”

While No on Prop 54 was a statewide initiative, Urban Habitat and its partners recognized that the state-level opposition strategy was not effectively engaging the Bay Area, particularly people of color and immigrant communities. The taskforce saw an opportunity to serve as a bridge between local and state levels and to strategically focus on communities of color. They hired communications specialists, produced accessible and language-specific materials for on-the ground outreach, wrote op-eds and produced a public service television segment that aired on Black Entertainment Television (BET). By serving as an organizing bridge and resource provider, the taskforce allowed grassroots groups to coordinate their message while tailoring their materials to their individual audiences—those communities that would be most impacted if Prop 54 were to pass, the same communities that statewide strategists had chosen not to prioritize. In October of 2003, Proposition 54 was defeated, with the Bay Area voting against it in overwhelming numbers. (18) While the taskforce members recognized from the beginning that the region was predisposed to vote it down, its defeat was a significant accomplishment nonetheless and the group had added a previously-unheard voice to the public debate.

Launching Issue-Specific Campaigns

Got Youth Pass [c] Scott Braley The Transportation Justice Working Group (TJWG) was established in October of 2003 and is an enduring example of the SEC’s potential as well as its concrete accomplishments. At the time, Urban Habitat was one of the only environmental justice groups participating in regional conversations about transportation in the Bay Area. In helping to create the working group, Urban Habitat specifically sought to bring other social justice groups to the table on transportation issues. The TJWG was composed of, and continues to be, an intentional mix of policy and grassroots organizations. The initial process of building the grassroots groups’ capacity to engage on transportation issues had to be balanced by action on short-term opportunities. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s (MTC) 2004 Regional Transportation Plan represented the first major victory for the working group and set the stage for future successes as $200 million was allocated to the MTC’s Lifeline Program to improve transportation options for low -income Bay Area residents. In 2006 the TJWG successfully lobbied the MTC to adopt two of four proposed environmental justice governing principles. Today, the TJWG is recognized by the MTC as a viable body that must be responded to. In addition, the landscape of organizations working on (and being resourced to work on) transportation issues has broadened dramatically. TJWG members have joined the board of TALC, taken seats on the MTC’s Minority Citizens Advisory Committee and, in an ongoing case, have sued the MTC for discriminatory funding patterns.

In addition to the SEC’s work on transportation justice, in 2006, the SEC launched its second working group in the area of Quality Jobs. The Quality Jobs Working Group (QJWG) was formed to address a critical dilemma faced by many constituents of SEC member organizations: many low-income people are faced with the inability to find a job, or are forced to work multiple jobs to compensate for low wages that are insufficient to raise a family. Additionally, organizations working to alleviate these problems have no common language around job quality and they have only scant tools with which to evaluate alternative policy mechanisms when they arise. To fill that research gap, Urban Habitat convened a subsection of SEC members and allies working on economic development to assess regional challenges and opportunities. As a first step, participants contributed to an edition of Race, Poverty, & the Environment, called “Just Jobs: Organizing for Economic Justice,” and held a release party engaging activists from across the region. Urban Habitat and the working group also produced a white paper to define job quality and provide a tool for evaluating economic development efforts.

Learning from Regional Allies

With support from Urban Habitat, the SEC has maintained a strong tradition of engaging with social equity allies around the world. Since 2002, SEC delegations have traveled to South Africa for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, to Washington, D.C. for the Second National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, to India and Brazil for the World Social Forum and to Atlanta, Georgia for the first-ever United States Social Forum. Delegates have shared their experience with multi-issue, multi-sector regional coalition work and have brought lessons and connections back home to share with the larger Caucus. The recurring theme throughout the SEC’s engagement in these forums is that low-income communities, people of color, workers and families in the Bay Area face problems similar to those faced by communities elsewhere, and that there is hope for knowledge and power to be consolidated if those struggles, regardless of borders, are connected to each other.


1 Presidio General Management Plan, contained in “Creating a Park for the 21st Century; From Military Post to National Park; Final General Management Plan Amendment; Presidio of San Francisco; Golden Gate National Recreation Area; California," July 1994, prepared by the National Park Service.
2 Peter Booth Wiley, National Trust Guide/San Francisco: America’s Guide for Architecture and History Travelers (2000) 356.
3 Carl Anthony, Hannah Creighton, and Penn Loh, eds. “Sustainability & Justice: A Message to the President’s Council on Sustainable Development/An Urban Habitat Program Reader” (Urban Habitat Program / Earth Island Institute, 1995), 1. Available through Urban Habitat.
4 The Urban Habitat Program name was subsequently shortened to Urban Habitat.
5 Robert Bullard. Environmental Justice in the 21st Century. Available at http: ejrc.cau.edu/ejinthe21century.htm. The delegate-ratified “Principles of Environmental Justice” document is available at: http://www.ejnet.org/ej/principles.html.
6 Presidio Trust. Mission and History: Post to Park (1994-present). http://www.presidio.gov/history/history/park.htm.
7 See endnote 3.
8 President's Council on Sustainable Development; Original Charter; July 20, 1993; available at: http://clinton2.nara.gov/PCSD/Charter/.
9 See endnote 3.
10 Judith Innes. “Taking the Three ‘E’s Seriously: The Bay Area Alliance for Sustainable Communities / Working Paper 2004-07” (Institute of Urban and Regional Development, University of California at Berkeley, no date), iii.
11 Urban Habitat Program; Concept Paper for Developing the SEC; (1999, date estimated).
12 Ibid.
13 Richard Rapaport. Sixty Years of the Bay Area Council, (Bay Area Council, 2005), 18. Available at: http://www.bayareacouncil.org/site/pp.asp?c=dkLRK7MMIqG&b=1419407.
14 Urban Habitat and PolicyLink. Communities Gaining Access to Capital: Social Equity Criteria and Implementation Recommendations for the Community Capital Investment Initiative (CCII) (2000), 5. Available at: http://www.policylink.org/pdfs/CCII.pdf.
15 See endnote 11.
16 The video is available online at: http://earthhousecenter.org/streamingmedia/01_voices_from_the_community/index.htm
17 “Bridging the Bay.” DVD available from Urban Habitat.
18 California Secretary of State. Statement of Vote: 2003 Statewide Special Election. Statewide Measures. http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/sov/2003_special/measures.pdf.

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